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Shadowshaper Legacy: The Shadowshaper Cypher, Book 3

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Shadowshaper Legacy: The Shadowshaper Cypher, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Great urban cast drives magical fantasy finale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, where most of the story is set. A map of the wider Brooklyn area is included. Main character's family converses in Spanish. Some is translated for readers, some not. A little history of the island of Puerto Rico when it was fought over by Spain and the United States.

Positive Messages

Sierra is a Puerto Rican New Yorker with an Afro -- not your typical fantasy book character. She was already confident about her identity in the first book. Here she becomes a confident leader of her group of shadowshapers and learns to make tough decisions. Her friends and family push her to communicate her plans better, and she learns from her mistakes here. Some of Sierra's spirit protectors are young people of color who were killed by police, all wearing hoodies -- the author is not shying away from this tough topic. A rival group of skinheads is also in the mix, but this is more a label in this story; their views are not discussed. Sierra's friends come from many different backgrounds and include a lesbian couple. A teen boy with regular panic attacks is accepted and helped by his friends.

Violence

A threatening man purposely run over -- the driver lines up the tire with his head. Fights with blades, one ending in death. A teen impaled in shoulder and magically healed, a man in a coma. A concert brawl with teeth knocked out and people trampled. Creepy magical beings attacking and causing injuries. Stories told of ancestors include much violence: a mother shot and killed in front of her daughter, a mother trying and failing to kill her more magical daughter, talk of guards denied one sense each (one with nose cut off, another with ears cut off... the man with skin flayed off dies). Teens in prison talk of the fear of being beaten, killed, or raped. A mention of how a character's brother was killed by police. His spirit and those of others killed by police are always around.  

Sex

Kissing, sneaking into rooms, and some undressing and hints of more intimacy in both straight and LGBTQ couples. Some innuendo about oral sex.

Language

Regular swearing in English and Spanish. Mostly "ass" and "s--t" in English, plus "bitch," "d--k," "damn," "bastard," and "hell." The main character's mother swears up a storm in Spanish when she's upset, but then tells her daughter not to say "s--t." A junkyard dog is named Cojones ("balls" in Spanish), but his name gets shortened to "Cojo." Teen girls use the phrase "hoes before bros."

Consumerism

Mentions of The Godfather and types of cars.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke and talk of someone selling weed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shadowshaper Legacy is the third book in the Brooklyn-set Shadowshaper Cypher fantasy series with a Latina hero named Sierra. Like the rest of the series, there's regular swearing in English and Spanish (mostly "s--t" and "ass" and not "f--k") and some complex social themes to discuss -- though this time instead of tackling police brutality, Sierra and her diverse group of friends face off against some skinheads (whose views are not discussed in the story). Straight and LGBTQ couples kiss, with some innuendo, sneaking into rooms, and undressing. Some hairy moments in Shadowshaper Legacy include a threatening man purposely run over, fights with blades, a teen impaled in the shoulder and magically healed, a concert brawl with teeth knocked out and people trampled, and creepy magical beings attacking and causing injuries. Stories told of ancestors include more violence: a mother is shot and killed in front of her daughter, another mother tries and fails to kill her more magical daughter, and guards are maimed. Throughout this series finale, Sierra works to end a cycle of violence perpetrated by some of her ancestors' magic and embrace the magic that promotes artistic expression and healing.

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What's the story?

In SHADOWSHAPER LEGACY, Sierra does not hold back when she and her fellow shadowshapers face off against the Bloodhaus, a group of skinheads with blood magic. She swoops in and strips the magic from their leader -- a move that creates a power vacuum and a serious shakeup to the magical Deck of Worlds that helps control their fate. Now she's more concerned about the Iron House, and who from the Bloodhaus will join them. Little does she know that they're recruiting more than skinheads to fill their ranks. They've gotten to Sierra's boyfriend, Anthony, in prison, and she's not sure she can forgive him for being a traitor.   

Is it any good?

This magical finale, featuring the coolest pack of teens you wish you were friends with, excites with all the spirit fighting and creepy enemies, but is also somewhat confusing. Fighting off the Bloodhaus and then the fortified Iron House makes sense, but the Hierophants that pop up and their roles in the Deck of Worlds could have been explained better. One teen wakes up from a coma and just "knows things," another character looks creepy and spews river water, for whatever reason.

Despite the influx of skinheads into this story, this finale isn't as focused on social justice as the previous two books in the Shadowshaper Cypher. Shadowshaper Legacy focuses instead on the relationships of Daniel Jose Older's excellent characters, their love of family and desire to protect them, and their drive to end a cycle of violence. Hate doesn't win here, or even get any platform whatsoever because Sierra and her diverse shadowshapers are always thinking instead of the ones they love.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Sierra learns about her family in Shadowshaper Legacy. Who does she admire? Why? Who holds all the power? What has it done to her?

  • What was Juan and Anthony's prison experience like? Why do they have trouble adjusting to home life?

  • Are Sierra's friends like yours or very different? If you grew up in the suburbs or country instead of a city, what's different? If you grew up in a less diverse community, how is your experience different?

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